David is a junior broadcast major in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss.
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The Ole Miss baseball team opens spring practices on Friday, just three weeks from their season opener against the TCU Horned Frogs on Feb. 15 in Oxford.
Head coach Mike Bianco’s squad was ranked No. 19 by Perfect Game in their preseason poll this week, and the Rebels have a chance to be very good led by junior right-handers Bobby Wahl and Mike Mayers on the mound.
However, there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered in the last few weeks before the season opens, but there are four that stick out more than others.
Let’s take a look:
1. Who’s the Sunday starter?
This is probably the most obvious question out there, but rightfully so. Wahl and Mayers are as good of a 1-2 punch on Fridays and Saturdays as there is out there, but for the Rebels to reach their full potential they need someone to be consistent at the backend of the weekend.
There are plenty of candidates out there, but it remains to be seen if someone will take a step forward and take claim to the Sunday role.
Sophomore righty Chris Ellis is my favorite candidate for the job. Ellis appeared in 19 games, including one start, a season ago, where he posted a 4-0 record and 2.84 ERA. He also tallied 29 strikeouts to eight walks, while limiting opponents to a .219 batting average against.
Ellis reminds me a lot of Mayers, and if he has the same progression from year one to year two that Mayers did, Ole Miss will be in good shape on the weekends.
Senior right-hander Tanner Bailey is another possibility, while a newcomer could come onto the mix during the spring.
2. Where do the runs come from?
There’s no doubt that Ole Miss has a lot to prove offensively with the loses of Alex Yarbrough and Matt Snyder from last year’s squad.
They do have senior outfield Tanner Mathis back to be the catalyst in the lineup, but they’ll definitely need other guys to be more consistent throughout the lineup.
Sophomore outfielder Auston Bousfield will be looked to take another step forward at the plate in his second season, and a lot of people have compared him to Yarbrough in his freshman campaign.
For the first time since the change of the bats a few years ago, Ole Miss has a team built for small ball. Yes, they still have some big power hitters in the lineup, but most of those guys are interchangeable, and there is a ton of speed on the roster.
This season will tell the tale on how good of a hitting coach Cliff Godwin really is now that the Rebels have had an entire year to adapt to his way of hitting.
Look for Ole Miss to bunt, steal bases and hit and run a lot this season. It should be fun to watch.
3. Who are the everyday middle infielders?
After splitting time with Blake Newalu all of last season, this could be the year that junior Austin Anderson can finally man the shortstop position every day.
Anderson has been hampered by his ability to be productive at the plate, but if this summer was any indication, it could be a breakout year for the Sorrento, Fla. native. While playing in the Cape Cod League over the summer, Anderson’s average wasn’t where he wants it to be at .215, but he hit five home runs over the summer and drew 14 walks.
At second base, it’s going to be nearly impossible to replace what Yarbrough brought to the table in both the field and the batter’s box, but there will be some competition at the position.
Sophomore Jake Overbey did not have the freshman season he was hoping for after begin a highly rated prospect out of high school, so he has the potential to progress tremendously in year two.
Junior college transfer Lance Wilson is another candidate to play in the middle infield after a good showing in the fall. Wilson hit .330 with 30 RBI and 48 runs scored last season in junior college.
4. Who fills the key spots in the bullpen?
With Wahl and Mayers starting games and senior Brett Huber at closer, it will make the job of the bullpen a lot easier, but it will be vital for Bianco to find the guys he can trust in key spots for Ole Miss to be atop the SEC.
It will be interesting to see the progression of several young arms from last year like Hawtin Buchanan, Josh Laxer and Sam Smith. All three of those guys played in some big moments, and you have to think they will be ready to take on a bigger role this spring.
Then, there are guys like Aaron Greenwood, who came on at the end of last season and newcomers like Austin Blunt, Jacob Waguespack and Brady Bramlett.